A Greater Boston native, I'm a professional dancer and award-winning interdisciplinary artist with talents in choreography, filmmaking, art, and graphic design. I'm co-founder and artistic director of Luminarium Dance Company (Boston, MA), art director of Art New England magazine, senior contributor for The Arts Fuse, and am the Boston area dance critic for the international Fjord Review. I recently completed a one-year term as co-chair of the Arlington Cultural Council, and am regularly hired as an arts advocate to speak at events ranging from legislative assemblies at the State House to entrepreneurial panels for students at Mount Holyoke College. This blog serves as a behind-the-scenes peek into the life and journal of an interdisciplinary artist. Learn more at merliguerra.com or luminariumdance.org, and thank you for reading my thoughts on setting the visual and performing arts into motion.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A meadow starred with flowers...

A few milestones to begin.

Concussion free since 1/13!
After slippin' and slidin' for a while, I have finally pulled myself out the cave of concussion land. It turns out everyone's right: It takes time, patience and healing, but one day you wake up feeling fine, and after a while you realize you've kept feeling fine. I am so thrilled to feel like myself again. For eight weeks it felt like I was focusing an old lens, and finally I'm crystal clear!

Funding a dream...
This past Tuesday, Luminarium turned one and a half. Crazy how fast they grow up! After joking with Kim that the painful teething period of applying for grants back in October was finally over, sure enough, here come the baby teeth: 4 grants from 4 Local Cultural Councils! Concord, Watertown, Somerville and Boston. When I step back and compare where we were one year ago, I am thrilled by how far we've come. At the same time, last year's LCC apps weren't very strong for us. We were new, with only one show under our belt as a company. This year's applications we submitted felt very strong, which made these four successes such a positive reinforcement: We finally feel "real."

The Concord grant will go towards my Celebration of Preservation project for Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House centennial festivities in May (more on this another day). The Boston grant generously funds our general programming throughout the season. Most exciting, though, are the Watertown and Somerville grants, that will allow us to present installation work using found objects from the community, integrated with beautiful, intricately-lit contemporary dance.

New-found inspiration
My last post chronicled the inner workings of a new solo, one of many pieces involving light and movement that will come together with our installation work in Watertown and Somerville later this year. However, within the last 48 hours, my group piece has become a stronger presence in my mind and in my sketchbook than the solo. I won't fight it. Instead I'll allow the ebb and flow of inspiration to pull me closer to the choreography with time. But for now, some thoughts on the sextet:

For months now, I've been describing to Kim my need to create a piece with six dancers, emerging into the space on each other's shoulders as three tall, beautiful creatures. I've experimented with this in rehearsals, and we've found a very solid form of transportation that allows the dancer above to hover a light over the dancer below. At first, the light shines on just the feet of the walking dancer, then travels up to illuminate the face. By revealing the full body of the dancer in the light, we reveal also that he/she is not alone. I also described my urge to work with long, gossamer sleeves, allowing the lights to glow in their hands.

Without skipping a beat in our board meeting, Kim wisely summed it up as: "That image reminds me of the Sirens."

Ulysses and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper

...YES! That's exactly it! After researching images of the Sirens, I am so excited to have found a link between the images and emotions I sought to explore in this piece. (Thanks, Kim!) Included here are some of my favorite images, and ironically many of the images I found depict the Sirens as flying over their victims, or peering down at them from above; mimicking my original concept of having one dancer hover over another in space.

The Siren by John William Waterhouse

I am so freshly inspired, having found this resemblance between my current work and this series of imagery from the past. Physically, I see the hovering, the entanglement, the sinking, and the seduction.

The Fisherman and The Siren by Knut Ekwall

My question to myself now is: Are these three pairs of dancers 3 sirens, themselves? Or do they suspend and divide...come together and grow apart. Do they unite, then collapse into a smooth and somber inner struggle? I guess we'll have to see...

Unknown Seas by Norman Lindsay
Odysseus and the Sirens - Pottery
We must steer clear of the Sirens, their enchanting song,
their meadow starred with flowers...

Friday, January 6, 2012

Today is Friday.

Today is Friday. Eight weeks since hitting my head, and I am finally feeling like myself again. Last night was a wonderful first step back into the world of dance after two months of being movement-free (something I rarely encounter). Yet between the layers of frustration, denial, deep sleep, and healing, I did manage to work out a few inspirations for 2012's new work with Luminarium. Last night's first rehearsal of the new season served as a chance for me to experiment with a couple of different images that have gone from the mind to the paper...and now to the bodies who build them.

Sketches by Julia Wagner

The first is a new piece involving a couple of old friends, constructive creativity, and some elbow grease. In an effort to help Luminarium return to its roots by using more innovative lighting, I am in the process of constructing a solo piece in which a dancer's back acts as the mast for a hovering geo-dome of hanging light bulbs.

Measurements of the dome in relation
to Melenie's height and figure.

These beautiful sketches, provided by my ever-talented sculpture consultant and occassional Luminarium photographer Julia Wagner, show glimpses into the making of this costume. I first met Julia at Mount Holyoke College, as an art student. At the time, I found her work to be uniquely inspiring, so I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to work with her on this new design!

Multiple panels of wood will follow Melenie's movements
across her back and shoulder blades.

Meanwhile, the dancer I plan to use is an even older friend from my days with Acton School of Ballet and Commonwealth Ballet Company. Melenie Diarbekirian and I reconnected back in May when she auditioned for a temporary role in Luminarium's Spring Tour in June. By July, Melenie had been added to the company as a Guest Performer, and as we head into our second season, Melenie is now one of four Senior Company Members with LDC. She has a beautifully elastic quality to her movement, and an extreme focus and energy as she moves.

A shadowy figure performs to her own set of pulsing lights.

I am greatly looking forward to creating a new piece with these two artists, while taking on the challenge of creating a solo that involves a wire up one leg, a power strip on the back, and a wire sculpture over the head! However cumbersome, I've often found that restricted movement can actually be a blessing, as having the freedom of a full movement vocabulary can be equally daunting.

During rehearsal, I spent some more time playing with lighting, but more of my focus has been falling on the idea of partnerships. After spending some time reviewing a phrase from a class I taught a few weeks back, we began experimenting with having one dancer instigate another dancer's movements. The result was a mixture of improvised timing and initiation, combined with a set choreographic phrase.

Christin and Meghan did a really nice job with this (of the duets I filmed). Take a peek, but remember it's in its roughest stages!

So that wraps up my first night back in the dance world, my choreographic puzzlements that I've begun to explore, and my appreciation of working with such talented and innovative friends and artists. More to come on these projects as they move forward into the new year!